A migrant labourer has perhaps one of the most arduous lives indeed. Not only is their work fraught with extreme physical tasks, but they also have to travel great distances to find work, and a majority find work that does not pay equivalent to the hard work they put.
A story that has developed and come to light a few days ago highlights the challenges and life of extremities that these workers lead; it gives a peek into the rather dark and dangerous life of a migrant worker, who is exploited and paid little to show for the hard work they do day in day out, every day of their lives.
These labourers belong to low-income family backgrounds and remote areas of the country; they are lured in hired by trafficking syndicates from their native places to work in (in this case) Punjab on the promise of a good salary.
They would never have realized that the ‘good fortune’ that calls them could lead them to life which is more brutal than their existing problems; the pretext of work and hence a salary propels them to leave their native land and get to Punjab ( or any other more affluent state) where they are exploited, paid pittance and meted with inhuman treatment.
The cases of such deeds have lately come to light as the Border Security Force, or the (BSF) claims to have rescued a few of them, 58 in total, mentally challenged and found working as bonded laborers belonging to the state of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The BSF has informed that these laborers had been rescued from the border areas of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur, and Abohar in Punjab between 2019 and 2020.
Once they were rescued and questioned by the BSF, they found that these bonded labourers were in a feeble state of mind; some had become mentally challenged and worked as bonded laborers in the border villages Punjab.
Can one imagine the plight of these men, who are best treated like cattle, plowing the fields of the more affluent farmers, kept captive and treated in such inhuman manner that these men’s mental state has deteriorated to the point that they have lost their mental stability?
The issue does not end here, for making these labourers work long hours in the fields, these labourers are often given drugs, which adversely affected both their physical, psychological, and mental state.
A Letter, Politics and the Ongoing Farmers Protest
In light of such findings, the MHA has in a letter communicated to the Punjab Government asking it to look into the “serious problem” of bonded labourers working in these farmers’ farms in the border areas.
The ministry said, “Keeping in view of the multi-dimensional and overwhelming enormity of the problem, which involves human trafficking, bonded labour, and human rights violation, you are requested to look into the matter and take appropriate measures to address the serious problem.” The MHA has also asked for the state government to give an action report on the matter on “priority.”
Along with this, the MHA has also highlighted the matter to the Union Ministry of Labour and employment, asking it to issue suitable instructions to all states – especially Bihar, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha – for creating awareness of the same among the masses and to ensure that the poor and the vulnerable victims are not taken advantage of by unscrupulous elements with the false promises of better job prospects, remuneration, etc.
However, the letter is now creating ripples within Punjab’s political landscape, a senior Punjab Police Officer, confirmed the contents of the letter (on condition of anonymity) but described the findings as rather “far-fetched.”
The letter has also not gone down well with the protesting farmers, who are still protesting the farm bills and collected at the borders of Delhi; it has drawn sharp reactions.
Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of BKU Dakaunda and member of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee ( AIKSCC), has accused the Centre of trying to “malign the image of the farmers.”
Former NDA ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), said the letter was based on a “ridiculous assumption aimed purely at defaming farmers of the state.”
Jagmohan Singh has further alleged that after calling us Khalistani and terrorists, the Union government is playing another communal card; he further questioned the timing of the report from the BSF, which was done in 2019- 20 but had only found its way to the government after the farmer’s agitation is at its peak.
Singh insisted that the MHA withdraw the letter, stating that the farmers have an integral bond with their laborers but that the government is now trying to create differences between them and the Hindu migrant workers from UP and Bihar. They come every year to work across the state.
He expressed his anger at the allegations and said that they would be meeting the DC’s of Punjab’s border districts and that migrant workers working in these districts shall be produced as “proof.”
Others have also said that such letters from the Home Ministry will also send a wrong signal across the country, tarnishing the image and creating an atmosphere of confrontation.
Conclusion: If these allegations and the report of bonded labour and administration of drugs in order for the labourers to work long hours affecting their mental health are indeed true, then this is a grave matter that needs urgent look into. Human Trafficking is real, and it happens all over the world; India is not immune from the same.
We have read and come to know of incidents where people belonging from the social and economic backward, both men, women, and children, have been targeted and taken advantage of, hence if such an incident has been reported, keeping all politics aside, a thorough and fair investigation into the matter is essential.
If this matter comes true, we are no different than what China is accused of by the rest of the world.